John’s Gospel: Reflections on John’s Gospel, Part 2 (Morality vs. Following Jesus)

Morality and John

Notice how very little moralizing we find in John. How many do’s and don’t’s are there? How many rules? How many restrictions?

You see, it’s not that God doesn’t care about our morality, but that morality is not the path to pleasing God. We like to think that we’ve been saved so we’ll be good moral people. We then define “good, moral” to mean something like “doesn’t hurt other people intentionally.” And that misses the point.

It’s not entirely wrong, but it’s certainly not right because there’s a world full of people who try not to intentionally hurt others — and who are damned. Indeed, by defining the purpose of salvation as making us good, moral people, we cheapen the cross — so much so that many people figure they’re already good and moral and so have no need for Christianity, Christ, and the cross.

By assuming that Christianity points toward a generic morality, we struggle to understand why those without faith are damned. After all, there are people far more moral than I who’ve never heard of Jesus! Therefore, being generous, kind-hearted folk, we try to rationalize the salvation of those good people who lack faith.

The problem with this thinking is that it misses the point of salvation — not by all that much, but by enough to reach some horribly wrong conclusions. You see, the text says,

(John 17:3 ESV)  3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Salvation is given only to those who know God, and the only path to knowing God is Jesus. Period.

What does it mean to “know … God, and Jesus Christ”? Well, “know” includes experiential knowledge. It’s the knowledge that comes from the experience of living for Jesus, from obeying the commands of Jesus so that we can experience what he experienced, loving as he loves, serving as he serves.

The point is not so much the commands (as important as they are) as the obedience itself. By obeying Jesus’ commands, not only do we show our love for him, we become like Jesus.

For example,

(John 13:15-17 ESV)  15 “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Notice v. 17. The blessing does not come from doing unless we know that we are emulating Jesus’ example of humility. If Jesus is not too good to wash the feet of Judas, neither are we. Miss that point, and the washing means nothing.

Notice how John flows. Chapter 1 begins with an incredible exposition of the cosmic character of Jesus. He created the heavens and the earth! He pre-existed the Creation! He’s from heaven, coming to earth from God!

But very quickly, John introduces us to the very human Jesus, who obeys his mother and does a miracle just to avoid embarrassment to parents hosting a wedding party.

From then on, Jesus is presented as very human, although doing and saying incredible things. And the narrative continues to present his human side until —

(John 13:3-4 ESV)  3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,  4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.

We aren’t told how Jesus came by this realization — whether he’d always known or God waited to reveal it to him. What we’re told is that Jesus chose to humble himself in full awareness of being the Cosmic Christ.

John takes us all the way back to chapter 1 to tie it all together. Jesus is both Cosmic Christ and human Nazarene. And there’s no mystery, no riddle, no impossibility — because the Cosmic Christ, being like God, is humble enough to wash the feet of Judas.

This is not how we imagine God. We see God as too “other,” too holy, too different, too heavenly to strip to his underwear and wash filthy feet. And we imagine wrong.

So what does it mean to know God? Well, a really good start would be to deeply, thoroughly understand why Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

Well, it was to give us an example of humility, right? No. Well, kind of right. More right would be: because that’s the nature of God. Jesus, by washing those feet, was calling us to act like God — and so to come to know God.

Got it? Humility is not merely some command from on high that we must obey or else be damned. Humility is the character of God, and so God calls us to become like himself. In our humility, we emulate God, and so come to know God, and so enter into communion and union with God.

And that’s the goal.

(John 17:20-23 ESV)  20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Now, get this and suddenly the cross changes. Not only is the cross a means of atonement, but the cross becomes the very definition of the character of Jesus and so of God. And because of that, we are called to imitate Jesus (and God) by hanging ourselves on a cross.

The cross is not merely a great moral example. It’s God’s revelation of his nature. He did not kill his Son merely to show how much he loved us — as someone might cut off an ear or even commit suicide to prove his love to a girl. That would be, you know, crazy.

Rather, the cross is God being true to his nature. He is not merely revealing his nature, but rather acting according to his nature because, well, that’s who he is.

In order to atone for our sins, death on the cross was necessary. Therefore, God’s Son died on the cross — because his love and humility compelled him to do so.

We easily see the love, because we’ve heard that lesson so very many times, but rarely do we hear about the humility of God. It’s doesn’t get taught because we can’t imagine an  humble God. All-powerful, all-knowing beings shouldn’t be humble — we think. And we think wrong.

Get to know God a little better. Recognize him not as the cruel judge who damns those who misread the silences — and who seemingly gives us permission to do the same. Rather, recognize him as so humble that he dies for his enemies, even adopting his enemies and inviting them into his family so that they may be redeemed and ultimately changed.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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